Not among best, Thomas best left off Olympic team

MIKE LITTWIN

September 27, 1991|By MIKE LITTWIN

Is it just me, or don't you wish Isiah Thomas would shut up?

He misses the cut on the 1992 Olympic basketball team, and suddenly it's the Dreyfus affair, with tales of conspiracies filling the air like so many Michael Jordan jump shots.

Isiah Thomas figures it must be a conspiracy. Why else wouldn't he make the team? What he said was he couldn't understand the slight because he hadn't done anything to anyone.

He's right. He hasn't. And no one is mad at Isiah Thomas. Well, maybe Michael Jordan is. A long time ago, Thomas allegedly led an effort to freeze out the young Jordan in an All-Star Game, and the blood has been bad ever since. So the theory goes that Jordan told the Olympic selection committee: It's me or Isiah.

There's no evidence to suggest this actually happened. There's no reason to believe it did and every reason to believe it did not.

Thomas was left off the greatest, high-flying, high-fiving, high-topped team in the history of basketball on merit. Period.

Jack McCloskey, the Detroit Pistons GM, can quit the selection committee in protest if he likes. And Magic Johnson, Thomas' close friend, can issue a statement defending his little buddy if it pleases him. But here's the simple truth: Thomas is not one of the best 10 players in the NBA.

It isn't just me or the committee who thinks this way. It's just about everyone.

Try on this little statistic: In the last four seasons, Thomas has not made first-team All-NBA or second team. Not once. He hasn't made the first team since the 1985-86 season, which is a long time ago. To give you an idea how long, Manuel Noriega and Saddam Hussein were close friends of the United States at the time.

If you want start naming 1992-era guards, you've got to wait awhile before you get to Thomas. You start with Magic and

Jordan, of course. Then you go to Clyde Drexler, who was left off the team. You go to Chris Mullin, who made it. You go to John Stockton, who made it. You go to Kevin Johnson, who didn't. You go to Joe Dumars, Thomas' teammate, who didn't.

Then, maybe, you go to Isiah.

But there's another theory, and it's that if Larry Bird, who isn't one of the best 10 either, makes the team, why doesn't Thomas? Hey, this team is going to win every game by 50 points, anyway. Why not put Bird on the team? And why not put Thomas in there, if just for a sense of history?

That's simple. Larry Bird is Larry Bird. He, along with Magic, saved the NBA. He belongs in another category, which, in the modern era, also includes Magic, Jordan, Kareem and Dr. J. That's it. You put Bird on the team the same way you always put Willie Mays on the All-Star team. He belonged. He always will.

Thomas is different. Sure, he's going to the Hall of Fame. But he's Tiny Archibald. He's Dave Bing. He's a wonderful little guard with great speed, a big heart and an erratic jump shot. He's not Magic Johnson.

But Thomas doesn't seem to grasp this concept.

"I don't know what the criteria was," Thomas told The New York Times. "I do believe I've made a lot of contributions. I never really wanted to get into blowing my own horn, but no other player has come into the NBA and done what I've done with a franchise. I mean the Detroit Pistons had never won anything, not even a division. I helped this franchise win two championships, and now we sell out every game."

Let's take a closer look at this: "No other player has come into the NBA and done what I've done with a franchise."

Where does that fit on the hubris meter? I'd put it right after Al Haig when he said he was in charge. It's worse than Michael Jordan calling his teammates his supporting cast. It's worse than Reggie Jackson talking about the magnitude of me.

Thomas is not a historical figure. The Pistons aren't a historical team. Maybe we should send the entire Pistons team. They'd win, wouldn't they? And you know they'd be wonderful goodwill ambassadors. And maybe on the way back, they could stop off in Iraq and get this business straightened out once and for all.

As you may know, the selection process is not yet over. There will be two more players chosen, one of them from the NBA and one from the college ranks. If Thomas made it, I wouldn't mind. He is a great player after all. If he didn't make it, I wouldn't mind, either. Personally, I'd go with either Drexler, who can do more things, or Dennis Rodman as a defensive stopper.

The pity is that we've got this very exciting idea of taking an NBA All-Star team and putting it into the Olympics. And no one is talking about how great it's going to be to see Magic dish the ball to Malone or for Barkley to take the ball end to end or just to see these guys in the Olympic Games playing truly Olympian basketball. Instead, everyone is talking about Isiah.

I think we've heard enough.

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